Friday, July 27: Arches and Canyonlands / Island in the Sky
“What’s that big rock that looks like a whale?”
This was in some ways one of our most successful days.
We got up, had our usual breakfast (at the Chinese place), and then drove into Arches. We took a quick detour to Delicate Arch, where I quickly hiked up to the upper viewpoint, got some “early morning” pix, and then ran back down again. Then we drove to the Fiery Furnace for the day’s main event.
We met up with the ranger and our group of 26 (even though it was supposed to be limited to 25). We got the usual introductory and safety spiel, and then we hiked into the furnace.
This is a maze-like jumble of tall fins with no trails. Normally you can only go in as part of this ranger-led hike, but apparently you can go in individually with an appropriate permit.
Even though there are no trails there, there is a “standard route” that the ranger led hikes take. They cut some steps in some of the slopey rocks to make things a bit safer.
We expected Michael to like this because there were a number of “obstacles” that had to be overcome, including jumping across a several foot wide chasm, climbing up and down some steep rocks, a ledge next to a drop off, and a “chimney” which was a sharp v-shaped canyon, where you started off with your feet on one side and your hands on the other, walking sideways, and eventually with your tush on one side and feet on the other, crabbing sideways.
But something was more interesting about the hike. I personally prefer to be up near the front, near the ranger, so that I can hear what she says between the official stops. But I don’t want to monopolize her, so sometimes I was near the front and sometimes near the middle or back.
But Michael sort of attached himself to the ranger and stayed at the front the whole time. The interesting part is that he kept asking her interesting questions. It is probably the most involved and interested that Mike’s been in a ranger-led event yet. It was good to see him involved and active.
On the hike we got to hike through an arch, crawl through a really small arch, and stop for a ranger talk under the large “Surprise Arch”.
The hike was from 10 to 1 (we actually got out around 1:30). Despite being among the fins around noon, it was mostly shady and reasonably cool. There were even some locations where there was a strong wind.
We all had a good time.
During the hike, we noticed that the bits of blue sky overhead were getting cloudier and cloudier. By the time we got out, it was pretty overcast with some large thunderstorms in the distance.
We drove to Moab and caught lunch at McD’s (Michael’s idea).
Then we wanted to go to Island in the Sky for the afternoon. Michael wasn’t interested in that, so the compromise was that he spent the afternoon in the hotel (presumably watching TV) while Amy and I went to the park.
Canyonlands / Island in the Sky exists on essentially three levels. There is the top plateau/mesa, which is attached to the “mainland” by a neck that is only 40 feet wide. This is surrounded by mostly sheer cliffs that fall about a thousand feet to the “White Rim”. This forms a second, larger plateau. Then you can drop another roughly thousand feet and get to the river canyons, where the Colorado and Green rivers flow.
We stopped at the Shafer Road overlook and hiked out to the viewpoint. Somehow standing a few feet from a sharp edge next to a thousand foot fall made me rather uneasy; particularly when to get out to the end you had to step around a gully that made the trail only about a foot wide with a wall to the inside.
After that, we drove to the White Rim Overlook, which involved a mile hike out (and back). The trail was very well marked and mostly flat and level. At the end, it went out on a “peninsula” that was maybe 30 feet wide and with the required sheer drop-offs to make me rather nervous.
I wasn’t nervous in the middle of the peninsula, but in order to get good pictures of the canyons below, you had to get within a few feet of the edge. I was definitely “uneasy”.
As we hiked back to the car, we could see a large rain storm upwind of us (i.e. coming our way). We could also see rain falling in front of us and on the other side of us, not a good sign. (The clouds also meant that the lighting wasn’t too good for photos.)
It started raining lightly off and on as we drove to the Grand View Point Overlook. We could see bits of the river, but we really couldn’t see the confluence. We were running out of time, so we drove to the Green River Overlook, and then to Upheaval Dome.
On the way there, Amy asked, “What’s that big rock that looks like a whale?” I looked it up and answered with the obvious “Whale Rock”.
At this point, it was raining somewhat steadily. I considered skipping it, but I really wanted to see what it was. So I put on my raincoat, and started hiking the 0.3 miles to the first viewpoint. I was glad that I did. It was really nifty to look at (although it would have been better in direct light). It is a crater a few miles wide with a central “cone” of different colors. It looked totally different than anything else in the area. They are not sure what caused it, but the two leading theories are a large salt dome and a meteor strike.
The rain stopped shortly after I started hiking, so the raincoat was more of an encumbrance. With the rain, the temperature had dropped from the high 90’s down to about 70, so it wasn’t too hot.
We then drove back to Moab. I dropped Amy off at Zax to get a pager for a table, then continued to the hotel where I got Mike. We hiked over with perfect timing, as the pager went off moments after we got there.
Mike and Amy got the pizza buffet again, while I went for the Cobb Salad again (for three out of four visits). We could see the Olympic opening ceremony on the TVs there, but without sound.
When we returned to the hotel, Mike wanted to go into the pool, so that is where he is as I am typing this nearby. It is about 9:30 at night, so it is rather dark, except for the pool lights. It is sort of neat to have a warm evening, in the dark, with underwater lights lighting up the water.
The plan is to watch more of the opening ceremony, then hit the sack. Tomorrow we head to Goblin Valley and then on to Bryce Canyon.
If it were just me, I would spend another day here. I would hike the Devil’s Garden (in Arches) in the morning. Apparently the trail goes over a rib with a drop off on either side. Then in the afternoon, I would go back to Island in the Sky, hike out to ??? Point (Iím not sure what I meant when I wrote that), and hike up to the second viewpoint at Upheaval Dome.
One of the main annoyances out here is that I’m living in sunscreen. I slather it on rather thick, trying to ward off burns (and skin cancer). The downside is that it gets on everything! There are white hand prints all over the black rental car. My clothing is full of white stains, as is my camera strap and watch strap. I really hope this stuff will wash out...